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March 26, 2006

Pairaguys Lost

O'Connor, ''The Artificial Nigger'' -- Jerz: American Lit II (EL 267)

“They stood gazing at the artificial Negro as if they were faced with some great mystery, some monument to another’s victory that brought them together in their common defeat. They could both feel it dissolving their differences like an action of mercy” (125).

So they both suffered a defeat. Mr. Head, in addition to his sense of direction, lost his dignity and self-respect, when he denied Nelson was his grandson. He greatly regretted it almost immediately after he did it. Nelson too suffered chinks in his armor. He lost his feelings of complete independence, his feelings of equality to Mr. Head as he had to rely on him more than once. Nelson also lost the feeling that the city was the beautiful place of his imagination.

In this story, O’Connor employs a time-tested strategy in which the author defines the characters’ conflicts and has them travel to a remote location (neutral territory) to resolve their differences. I was first made aware of this technique years ago when I read “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the “Tempest”, but we also see this employed by FSF when the East/West Egg gang travels into the city and rents the hotel room before having their defining argument. To a lesser degree, I think we see this when Elmer Rice placed Zero and Daisy in the Elysian Fields.

I got the sense Mr. Head and Nelson became round characters at the end of the story because the trip to the city changed them both in some important ways. I had the hope Nelson would be less arrogant and Mr. Head more willing to admit his vulnerability to the boy. Maybe they’d get along better, lean more on each other from this point forward. The events of the trip stripped away the facades they both had erected and their true selves were exposed.

Posted by MattHampton at March 26, 2006 09:28 AM


You brought up a good point. That they both learned from this experience and realized how much they needed each other still. Nelson even though he was hurt by Mr.Head for dening that he was his grandson and felt guilty for it was trying to show Nelson that life is tough. I felt throughout the story that Mr.Head was being selfish because he couldn't handle another loss. Nelson leaving him would give him no reason to live on. Nelson was the reason he is living and Mr.Head was not ready to let him go. The trip to the city changed them both in ways they probably didn't expect.

Posted by: LisaRandolph at March 27, 2006 09:31 AM

Wow, that is all true! However, I think Nelson may have been a round character all along. Perhaps his arrogance was just in response to his overcompensating grandfather. The epiphany in the end is that they just learned each other's game. Mr. Head was trying to give Nelson everything to make up for his loses in life, and Nelson realized you can just be and not use sarcasim and arrogance as defenses.

Posted by: Shanelle Kapusta at March 28, 2006 12:32 AM

I thought it was strange that O'Connor described Neslon like an elderly man and Mr. Head like a child near the beginning of the story, but as the tale progressed it started to make sense because I could see them both undergoing changes, as you pointed out, Matt. Nelson gives up his eccentric attitude and starts to cling to his grandfather, and Mr. Head stops poking fun at Nelson all the time.

Posted by: ChrisU at March 28, 2006 08:44 AM

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